What Is Nasal Vestibulitis?

Medically Reviewed By Nicole Leigh Aaronson, MD, MBA, CPE, FACS, FAAP
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Nasal vestibulitis is an infection of the nasal vestibule, the hair-lined area in your nostrils. Hair plucking, excessive nose blowing or picking, and nasal steroid therapy can lead to nasal vestibulitis. It can be easy to treat, but some people may develop complications. Nasal vestibulitis is a common infection that can develop in healthy people. Research shows that nasal hair plucking and advanced age are among the most common risk factors.

This article will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment of nasal vestibulitis. It will also discuss possible complications and how to prevent them.

What are the causes of nasal vestibulitis?

A child picking their nose
Mieke Dalle/Getty Images

Nasal vestibulitis is a condition that most commonly results from infection with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. This strain of bacteria is present in 20% of people and does not usually cause infections on healthy skin. You may develop serious infections, like abscesses and cellulitis, if the bacteria enter your tissues or bloodstream.

A 2017 study showed that some habits that lead to skin abrasions could allow the bacteria to penetrate the skin’s protective barrier. These habits include nose:

  • waxing or hair plucking
  • blowing 
  • picking   
  • piercing 

What are the symptoms of nasal vestibulitis?

The symptoms of nasal vestibulitis can include:

  • severe pain and tenderness in the nostril area
  • redness or discoloration and swelling
  • pimples or boils in your nose
  • yellow crusting on the septum, the cartilage that divides your nostrils
  • cellulitis in the midface area
  • abscess in the nasal cavity

Some people may also develop a fever and a high white blood cell count.

How do doctors diagnose nasal vestibulitis?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and perform a physical exam to diagnose nasal vestibulitis. If your nasal vestibulitis remains untreated, you may need to be admitted to the hospital to receive adequate medical care.  

What are the treatments for nasal vestibulitis?

Mild cases of nasal vestibulitis usually cause a localized skin infection that is manageable with topical treatment. A 2015 study involving people with cancer showed that 95% of nasal vestibulitis cases benefitted from 2% topical mupirocin. Using saline drops and topical treatment may also help speed up recovery.  

In cases when the infection spreads, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotic treatment and topical antibiotics. If you have a weak immune system or diabetes, you can take oral antibiotics as a first-line treatment to avoid possible complications.  

Some people do not respond to treatment with topical and oral antibiotics. In these cases, receiving IV antibiotics in the hospital may be necessary.

What is the outlook for people with nasal vestibulitis?

With proper treatment, the outlook for people with nasal vestibulitis is generally good. Timely management with topical and oral antibiotics can clear up symptoms and help you avoid hospital admission.

If you have nasal vestibulitis once, it may recur. The same 2015 study above showed that 13% of people who experienced nasal vestibulitis went on to have multiple episodes.

What are some potential complications of nasal vestibulitis?

Treating nasal vestibulitis promptly can help you avoid complications. In some cases, nasal vestibulitis can lead to cellulitis or boils.

If you develop cellulitis in your nose, you may experience extreme pain, swelling, and redness or discoloration in the area. You may also develop blisters or fever.

If you develop a boil, you will notice a pimple-like bump that is extremely red or discolored and tender. Applying hot compresses to the boil three times a day for 15–20 minutes can ease your discomfort and speed up healing. If left untreated, a boil can develop into a larger abscess that may require drainage.

A 2020 study noted that the network of veins and sinuses in the midfacial area can potentially carry infection to your brain and cause serious complications. However, a 2017 study showed that even in cases of nasal vestibulitis that required admission to a hospital, the risk of major intracranial complications was extremely low.

What are the risk factors for nasal vestibulitis?

Risk factors for developing nasal vestibulitis include:

  • causing skin lesions in the nasal area
  • taking immunosuppressive drugs
  • having diabetes or a prior nasal vestibulitis episode           
  • smoking

People receiving targeted cancer treatment may be particularly at risk of skin infections. In addition, oxygen therapy through the nose can be drying and irritating, increasing the risk of nasal vestibulitis.

Can you prevent nasal vestibulitis?

Nasal vestibulitis usually develops when bacteria penetrate the tissues in your nasal vestibule through a minor cut or lesion. Refraining from touching the inside of your nose or plucking your nasal hairs can help reduce your risk of developing the condition.

If you take immunosuppressive drugs, have diabetes, or have had nasal vestibulitis before, promptly treating any tenderness, redness or discoloration, or swelling in your nasal vestibule with topical antibiotic creams may keep nasal vestibulitis from occurring.

Summary

Nasal vestibulitis is a common and treatable infection of the nasal area. Symptoms may include tenderness, swelling, pimples, or crusting inside the nose.

Treatment typically involves topical or oral antibiotics. With prompt treatment, most cases of nasal vestibulitis clear up with no complications.

If you have redness or discoloration with pain around your nose or in your nostrils, talk with your doctor to start treatment right away.

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Medical Reviewer: Nicole Leigh Aaronson, MD, MBA, CPE, FACS, FAAP
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 13
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Lipschitz, N., et al. (2017). Nasal vestibulitis: Etiology, risk factors, and clinical characteristics: A retrospective study of 118 cases [Abstract]. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0732889317301840
  2. Mohamed-Yassin, M. S., et al. (2020). A red and swollen nose. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7136680/
  3. Taylor, T. A., et al. (2022). Staphylococcus aureus. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441868/
  4. Ruiz, J. N., et al. (2015). Nasal vestibulitis due to targeted therapies in cancer patients. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s